About eight years ago, my father-in-law, Cecil, had to have a liver transplant. He was in his sixties, and not in the greatest of health, and was lower than many on the donor list. It wasn’t entirely clear that he would get a liver. At the last minute, a healthy liver became available—that of a young woman someplace in Virginia who’d died in a car accident. She’d had the generosity of spirit to check “yes” on the “organ donor” portion of her Virginia driver’s license. This unknown soul did not know who Cecil Camlin was, but she saved his life. By her wounds he was healed.
In many ways, though, this physical healing had a critical spiritual dimension as well. Cecil awoke from the surgery with a deeper appreciation for the grace of God that comes to us often unknown and undeserved. Cecil was hardly a bad guy to begin with—you couldn’t ask for a better father-in-law, dad or granddad—but he made a conscious attempt, the last seven years of his life, to live in gratitude for every added minute he felt God had given him. He developed a strong feeling that life was a gift, and a strong sense of gratitude for the love of God. When he’d faced the possibility of death because of his dying liver, Cecil had been fearful. In the last few years, aware that his health was declining, Cecil approached death differently—with confidence in God and with joy in the life he had. When he passed last November, we knew he’d lived a full and grateful life.
Jesus’ disciples came to the Lord’s Table that dreaded Passover unaware that they were deathly sick and in need of a transplant, the kind of transplant you can only get because someone had to die. The sickness was spiritual, but they didn’t know it. They hadn’t recognized the symptoms before this, because the symptoms hadn’t been severe enough. But over the next few days, the symptoms would manifest in the most terrible ways. One of them would betray Jesus to his enemies. The one who thought his faith was the greatest would deny that he even knew him, out of fear for his life. All of Jesus’ male disciples would abandon Him, leaving the women to clean up the mess. These were Jesus’ hand-picked leaders, the ones Jesus had personally vetted and trained to be His support team and His replacements when He was gone—and this is what they do.
The human sickness, the human stain, was too far along for anything less than the most radical surgery.
But even the disciples’ inexcusable behavior was but a symptom of the larger malaise that the crucifixion represented. The human sickness has physical manifestations, but it’s a spiritual sickness. And it kills, not our bodies, but our souls. By killing the Son of God, we actually were making the official declaration of the death of the human spirit. On a Thursday and a Friday some two thousand years ago, God’s best human friends betrayed, denied, and deserted God. Human religion found God to be a heretic and ordered Him dead. Human government found God ungovernable and killed Him. It wasn’t really God who died on that cross on Good Friday. It was us. At least, it was our souls. What kind of people would kill the God who loves them, one might ask? Human people, one might answer—people like us.
One way or another, what was needed was a soul transplant. The most radical surgery of all. And it was needed, stat. The human patient who Jesus was sent to save was coding on the operating table. Who was going to save us? Where could you find a donor willing to give humanity a soul?
The donor was right there, on the cross. It was an emergency surgery. At the very moment when we, the human patient, were killing our own spirit, Jesus was donating His own Spirit to us. He was giving us new life, a chance to start again and get it right this time, a new spirit that could look at the world through God’s eyes—with love, not expediency; with generosity, not selfishness; with hope, not fear; with gratitude, not suspicion. By his wounds we are healed.
As we take the elements of the Lord’s Supper, we say that the bread is Christ’s body given for us—like the liver that young woman in Virginia donated to Cecil. Some of you are on dialysis, and a few times a week you have a complete transfusion—like Christ’s blood is a complete soul transfusion for us all. In Christ’s death and resurrection, God has given us a new soul. That new soul is a gift, given when we most needed it. It isn’t something to be taken lightly. We’re expected to live a new way. We’re expected to have Christ’s life within us and to see Christ’s life around us. That has both disturbing and positive implications.
Jesus told us to that whatever we do to the “least of these,” we do to Him. The way we treat the poor and the weak remains one of the most disturbing evidences of the way humanity is still afflicted by the deadly soul sickness. When people act that way, they’ve forgotten, or chosen not to remember, that how we treat others is how we treat God. And it’s also proof that we’ve forgotten, or chosen not to remember, that it’s Christ’s life that is living within us.
By contrast, the best way to live is to see Christ in everyone around us, and to let Christ’s life live through us. To live grateful, grateful for all that we have from God’s hand. True gratitude doesn’t feel a need to hoard blessings to itself; true gratitude is always generous, always willing to give to others, especially to the needy.
We often think, not unjustifiably, that the lesson of Maundy Thursday is shame—look what we did to Jesus. But the real lesson is humility—look what God has done for us, and we so undeserving. It was so humbling to know that some stranger’s decision to donate her organs upon death could give Cecil and everyone who loved him a new lease on life. There’s something wondrous, transcendent, humbling to know that a simple decision to check a box could make such a difference, that the kindness of a stranger in dying could give someone a new liver. That wonder and that humility filled all of us with gratitude.
How much more, then, should we be humble and live gratefully when we know that God died to give us a new soul?